A titanic tussle with champions Arsenal, that elicited drama and quality in equal measure, is the focus of our next feature remembering the epic 2004/05 campaign...
‘It was a great game; the quality was good, there were no red cards and only one or two yellows. This was a game not just for England, but for the world – and we can be proud of being involved.’Jose Mourinho
Arsenal versus Chelsea. Or, as Sky Sports billed it, ‘Judgement Day’. It was an appropriate tagline, at least as far as the Blues were concerned; impressive as Jose Mourinho’s men had been in compiling a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League table, the calibre of opposition throughout our barnstorming autumn run was hardly the most testing. A visit to the home of the artists formerly known as the Invincibles would provide the sternest examination of our title credentials.
Highbury was once a daunting proposition for the Blues and although we remained without a league win at the ground since Johnny Bumstead bagged the winner way back in March 1990, we had emerged victorious from a Champions League tie earlier in the year. That wonderful moment when Wayne Bridge slotted the ball past Jens Lehmann and ran to celebrate with the travelling Chelsea supporters remained fresh in the memory of all concerned with the club.
Thrilling cup victories aside – add to the above a couple of unforgettable League Cup triumphs – however, the Blues still had to concern ourselves with a winless Premier League run over the Gunners which stretched back to September 1995. In between times there were countless games when Chelsea had managed to snatch a defeat or draw from the jaws of victory. Now was the time to condemn those to distant parts of the memory bank; mental fortitude was the order of the day. Boy was it needed.
Just 75 seconds had elapsed when the deadlock was broken, the reigning champions landing the first blow through a man who had been a familiar scourge of the Blues over the years: Thierry Henry. It was a typically classy strike from the Frenchman which matched the pre-match hyperbole.
There was no panic among the Chelsea players, as there may have been in previous years, and the response was not long in coming. John Terry was making a welcome habit of popping up with crucial goals, and here was another. This time, Henry claimed the assist; the Gunners no.14 unwittingly blocked the path of Sol Campbell, allowing the Chelsea skipper a free run at an Arjen Robben corner kick. Unchallenged, he made no mistake.
With the new year not yet upon us, JT had already equalled his best-ever goal tally, set in the 2002/03 season. Still, he had quite a way to go to match the most number of goals in a season from a Blues defender, a record still held by Graham Roberts after he scored 17 in 1988/89. It should be said, however, that Robbo’s tally came in the Second Division and included 13 penalties.
A thrilling game was emerging, and the intrigue was added to when the home side regained the lead in controversial circumstances. A free-kick was awarded 25 yards from the Chelsea goal and as Petr Cech stood by one post to line up his wall, Henry stroked the ball into the opposite corner.
The Blues were furious. ‘Unhappy is a nice word because I cannot say the word I have in my heart or in my soul,’ said Mourinho after the game. ‘I don't want to speak about it because if I do, maybe I will have to go to the FA or pay out some money instead of spending it on Christmas gifts.’
His players’ protests towards referee Graham Poll fell on deaf ears. Eidur Gudjohnsen, the Chelsea player closest to the ball as it was struck, stopped short of trotting out the cliché of how these decisions even themselves out over the course of the season. Henry, meanwhile, revealed, ‘Poll said, ‘Do I want it or do I want to wait for the whistle. I told him I wanted it. I was just waiting for Eidur to get out of the way.’
The BBC Sport website had actually interviewed Poll following a similar quick free-kick controversy in the previous campaign which had also involved Henry, although on that occasion it was Aston Villa on the receiving end.
‘If the attacking team are fouled then it is they who hold the advantage,’ he insisted. ‘With a free-kick around the penalty area, we always ask the players whether they want it quick or slow. This is their window of opportunity to surprise the defence.
‘There is nothing in the laws of the game that say we have to indicate for the free-kick to be taken. It's just like when someone wants to take a free-kick anywhere else on the field. As long as the ball is stationary and in the right place then the attacking team can take it as quickly as they like.’
Mourinho had another view, based on the visit of a ‘top referee’ in pre-season. ‘One of the things he explained was walls, distance, whistle. Everything was clear. Today, nothing. I know the rules and they are the same anywhere in the world.’
Thankfully, the goal didn’t prove to be decisive. A half-time reshuffle, which saw the Blues effectively revert to a 4-2-4 formation following the introduction of Didier Drogba, paid immediate dividends thanks to another goal from a set-piece.
Frank Lampard, who had recently been voted BBC London Footballer of the Year ahead of Henry, provided the free-kick from which the Blues grabbed a deserved equaliser through Gudjohnsen just one minute into the second period. Kevin McCarra in the Guardian described the Gunners’ fate as, ‘Death by dead ball.’
While both sides had chances to take what could have been a season-defining victory, most notably the home side when Henry missed an open goal in the closing minutes, a draw was a fair result.
‘This was a real heavyweight contest, the blows raining in, the combatants locked in embraces of mutual respect at the bell,’ wrote Martin Lipton in The Mirror.
Mourinho also provided a fitting summary of the 2-2 draw which ensured his side would remain five points clear going into the busy Christmas period.
‘I have to congratulate every player on the pitch. Not one team was better than the other, not one team had more chances than the other. We showed the spirit of the team, going behind twice and fighting for the result. So you can see what the team wants and what it is capable of. It deserves your trust.’
They had certainly earned it. In previous years, Christmas had proved to be Chelsea’s undoing – this time there was a feeling among the Stamford Bridge faithful that a corner had been turned.
- By Richard Godden - Chelsea matchday programme editor
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